By Pam Benson
A group of Republican senators continued to fire away Tuesday at the Obama administration for its failure to appoint a special counsel to investigate leaks of classified information.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, once again led the charge at a Capitol Hill news conference, criticizing Attorney General Eric Holder for his decision to appoint two Justice Department prosecutors to investigate the recent leaks to the media.
"To think that two people appointed prosecutors from Mr. Holder's office, overseen by Mr. Holder, is also offensive," McCain said. "We need a special counsel. We need someone who the American people can trust and we need to stop the leaks that are endangering the lives of those men and women who are serving our country."
Holder responded to the accusations at a June 12 congressional hearing. He said the Justice Department and the FBI are keeping a careful eye on any potential conflict of interest, but said of the prosecutors, "We have people who have shown independence, an ability to be thorough, and who have the guts to ask tough questions. And the charge that I've given them is to follow the leads wherever they are ... wherever it is in the executive branch or some other component of government."
In recent weeks, there have been a number of national security-related stories quoting current and former U.S. officials.
One story revealed that a Saudi agent had infiltrated al Qaeda in Yemen and had uncovered an airline bomb plot directed against the United States.
Another had the details of how the United States and Israel were behind the Stuxnet cyberattack against Iran's nuclear program. The computer virus caused some of Iran's centrifuges to spin out of control.
The Republican senators derided President Barack Obama for his recent comment that he found offensive any notion that members of his administration intentionally released classified information.
"Any other administration, in my memory, Democrat or Republican, would have been absolutely apoplectic looking for the culprits, trying to find out who were the people that actually committed these criminal leaks," Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, complained. "Instead the president is offended that someone would suggest such a thing. And frankly, members of the administration are sort of smugly happy that information come forward that appears to make the president seem tough."
White House spokesman Jay Carney called a similiar accusation "wrong and absurd" at his June 11 press briefing. Carney said the president "takes very seriously the need to protect classified and sensitive information," but indicated there was no need for a special prosecutor, that there were "very capable people in the Department of Justice" to handle the matter.
McCain read excerpts from a book written by New York Times correspondent David Sanger, emphasizing one passage in which Sanger talked about a White House trip and an invitation by a senior National Security Council official to be briefed about Iran on the hotel floor where the president's suite was located.
"Maybe the president of the United States was not present at his own suite in Pittsburgh when, obviously, the notion that his White House would purposely release classified national information is offensive is contradicted by the facts," McCain said.
The senators suggested Congress might have to take matters into its own hands if the Obama administration does not change course.
"My hope is that Congress will take up the responsibility to do what (it) is constitutionally authorized and obligated to do, and that is to investigate this matter ourselves," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
No Democrats participated in the news conference, but the Republicans quoted extensively from comments made by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein about the severe consequences of the leaks.
Feinstein told CNN Tuesday that she had no problem with Justice prosecutors continuing their work, which is already underway.
"I have no reason to believe that they're going to be anything other than forward leaning and very straightforward in the investigation which is what we want," Feinstein said. She is concerned partisan politics might be creeping in, but wants the investigation to continue and be completed "forthwith."
CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report